“Well, nothing here,” I said to myself, “at least nothing biting.” I reeled in the line, secured the hook and leaned down to snag up the strap of my fishing creel. Settling it over a shoulder, I moved through the bushes and along the faintest hint of a trail, working my way downstream to find a new spot by the stream— one hopefully near a really big, really hungry trout.
A few yards farther down Gallinas canyon, I passed my husband who was letting his own line drift lazily down the water. He looked up and smiled at me, looking more relaxed than I’d seen him in months. I smiled back and continued on, ducking under trees and weaving between their trunks, my pole always pointing straight ahead like the hand of a compass showing me the way I wanted to go.
Ahead, I saw a great spot— a smallish bank with a wide, clear opening— just above a sweet-looking pool. To get there, I needed to ease between a large granite boulder and an inward-leaning tree, but that was no problem. I leaned left, slid sideways and… froze.
A soft gasp floated in the air as I came face-to-face with a newborn fawn. Nestled on a small bed of soft grass, partially hidden by the curve of the boulder, it had raised its head at my sudden arrival.
Then, it slowly lowered its head back down behind the wispy mountain stems. The fawn was still wet— clearly a brand-new newborn. I turned my head, slowly looking from the water to the trees above, but there was no sign of the doe. She was well-hidden, likely watching in concern as I stood there beside her new baby.
I looked, again, at the fawn which was still carefully observing me with big, soft, sleepy brown eyes. Trying not to frighten him, I began moving slowly backwards to the other side of the boulder. When
I was finally on the other side of the massive rock, shaking my head in disbelief, a smile spread across my face at what I had just seen. Wow.
I softly lowered my creel to the base of the rock, leaned my pole against the curving granite and began fishing my phone out of my back pocket. Oh, so quietly! I inched forward just enough to take a few, quick pictures and then faded back out of sight.
I turned to see my husband shifting, ready to find himself a new spot on the river. Without speaking, I began waving my arms like a maniac until I caught his attention. Then, loudly making the universal sign for “BE QUIET!”, I gestured towards the other side of the boulder and then used the other universal sign: “Come Here!”
Oddly enough, my husband understood every excited motion. Leaving his gear behind, he approached cautiously. With an expression reflecting his curiosity, he, too, eased around the boulder. When he stopped, stood stock-still, then began reaching for the phone in his back pocket, I knew he’d seen the baby, too.
Afterward, the grin on his face mirrored mine. “That was worth every penny of the fishing licenses!” he enthused. “I mean, you never get to see a baby deer that close in the wild! And it was a fresh newborn!”
We ended the day’s excursion right there— I mean, how could you possibly top that? And, suddenly, I was noticing details that had escaped me in the previous hours. The different beauties of the wildflowers, the massive thickness of the downed trees that I’d been clambering over, under and around. The utter stillness of the secluded glen— well, except for the stream rushing through it, of course.
Turns out, it was a trip full of surprises.
Days before, I’d taken my twelve-year-old stream fishing in Cimarron Canyon. Through the bushes, around the corners we stomped— her in her new hiking boots, me in my old ones. The inevitable happened. Hook caught on a low-handing branch, she just stepped right into the creek to deal with it. Water rushing over the tops of her boots, she looked over at me. “Yep. They’re waterproof.”
The girl deals with surprise rather matter-of-factly. But later, finding ourselves ankle-deep in boot-sucking mud, she laughed. And when I almost lost my balance while crossing the rushing water on a rather skinny log? Well, she absolutely howled with delight at my recovery antics!
The next day found us at Morphy Lake. As we quietly fished along its edge, the stillness was broken by a sharp, cracking sound. Heads snapping up, we looked across the water just in time to see a huge pine fall over, its top half crashing onto the calm surface of the lake. The sound of it, rolling across the water, was awe-inspiring!
But, not all surprises are good ones.
When I eventually took myself to the other side, to fish off the boulders where I’d always fished with my big brother, my reel suddenly began giving me problems. We had a limited amount of time to spend there, so every second lost was one less for catching “Walter”— a magnificent 3-foot trout we’d seen years before. Walter is the king of trout. The one fishermen dream of. The one spoken of in hushed tones as… “the one that got away”.
So, there I was getting more and more frustrated, moving rapidly into the “ticked-off” stage and not too far from the really…hacked-off stage. My husband (and daughter) very kindly came to the rescue, bringing my extra pole from where they were still fishing on the other side of the lake. Problem solved (sort of), I regained my zen and began enjoying the moment.
The sound of thunder didn’t faze me. I like mountain showers and am not so sweet that I’ll actually melt. The first sprinkles didn’t bother me, either. As the rate of rainfall increased, we put on our raincoats, pulled our caps down lower and continued on.
Eventually I noticed our daughter had abandoned her post and taken shelter under some of the big pines above us. When my husband asked where she was, I pointed a thumb over my shoulder and continued watching my line. He shrugged and pulled his leather hat lower, obviously indicating by his stance that if I could take it, so could he! After all, he was a Marine! (They’re amphibious, you know.)
The time came, however, when I finally found the sense to “get out of the wet”. It was no longer raining. It was pouring. I laid my gear aside and began clambering up the muddy incline towards my daughter’s shelter. I noticed my husband behind me, obviously thinking now that if I was going to abandon my post, he’d better come along to make sure I did it right! So, up we went. I climbed onto a boulder that seemed somewhat sheltered by the tree next to it.
Wedged in against the tree trunk, we waited. It rained. Poured. Dumped. Thunder boomed, its echo rolling through the mountains. Lightening flashed and crashed. Common sense would have us heading to the truck by now, but it was parked on the other side of the lake, with the shortest route being back across an open dam. Not the best idea. But, the other way around was a long way around. So, we waited, watching the lake pretty much disappear in the deluge. After a while, it began to lighten and I thought, “Okay.” And then? It… Began…To… Hail. “Seriously?”
We continued trying to wait it out but when the wet finally soaked through my man’s leather hat, that was it. We gathered our gear and headed to the dam. Lightening was still flashing occasionally so, with our “lightening-rods and reels” held low, we began a slow run across.
Ducks. There were ducks. On the dam. An entire sord of ducks. (Yes, that’s a word.) And, they covered the middle of the dam— which wasn’t very wide. With big rocks lining both sides, all the way across, the little quackers had no inclination whatsoever to move aside. Instead, they began waddling en masse ahead of us, throwing black looks over their shoulders. Getting them to go any faster was a lesson in patience, but eventually the group reached the other end of the dam and peeled off to one side.
That left us with one last hurdle. The creek we’d stepped across earlier was now much wider, much faster and much more intimidating. The twelve year-old leaped like a gazelle and her parents followed, all landing with various amounts of grace in the gritty mud on the other side. A wet slough up the mountainside to the truck finished the trek.
Amazingly, we were in good spirits— cold and wet, true, but laughing and aware that it had been a fishing experience we’d certainly never forget. A hot cup of coffee in the nearest town and then? What I think had to be a reward for our positive attitudes.
Cruising along the narrow road through the valley, I caught sight of something out of the corner of my eye. I gestured towards it and my husband slowed down just as a wild bobcat came up onto the roadbed ahead of us. It stayed there, in the middle of the road, running ahead of our truck for maybe a quarter of a mile. Our daughter leaned forward and watched as the beautiful cat loped along, until it finally dropped over the other side of the road, its striped tail disappearing into the brush.
That’s the thing about surprises— they don’t last for long. Baby deer, falling trees, rain, hail, ducks, mud, bobcats. Good and bad, they’re all moments of the unexpected. And while the feeling of surprise fades, we’re still left with the memories that make us shake our heads with varying degrees of wonder. That we saw it. That we survived it.
My favorite surprise of the trip? Well, I saved the best for last. Buckle up. It’s pretty unbelievable. True, but unbelievable. That’s why it’s the best…
When my girl and I were fishing in Cimarron Canyon— just after we discovered that, while our hiking boots didn’t allow us to walk on water, we could walk in it— well, she moved to stand next to me on the bank. We fished side-by-side for a few minutes, but knowing what was likely to happen— and hating to deal with tangled lines— I geared up and followed a trail through the bushes, moving just upstream.
A tiny island appeared in sight and— knowing now the true capabilities of my boots, I kicked my way through the shallow water until I was on the sandy rise. Setting my creel down, I glanced back and saw a trout literally floating on the top of the water! Not one to ignore such an opportunity, I scooped it up, pulled the stringer out of my creel and strung it up just as it regained consciousness. I had, quite literally, kicked it out cold!
My daughter couldn’t believe what she’d just seen.
“You didn’t even use your pole!” she squealed. “You didn’t even use a hook!”
I smiled, contentedly, full of appreciation for the moment.
“I’m a fish guru,” I told her, somewhat smugly. “I’m a fish whisperer.”